RB box

Rail Baron
2003 World Boardgaming Championships
at Baltimore, MD - July 29 to August 3, 2003

What is Rail Baron? - Illustrated Description and History
How to attend the WBC and play in the Rail Baron tournament

2003 Tournament Results

from GM Steve Okonski

It was another chugfest. The 2003 Rail Baron title was claimed by Mike Zorrer in a quickly played and very close final match. As in 2002, no former champions advanced past the semi-final round, but all 6 finalists were experienced players and some were former finalists. In turn order, they were Bill Crenshaw, Ron Secunda, Mike Zorrer, Brian Conlon, Charles Ellsworth, and Carl Walling, Jr.

2003 finalists
Finalists, from a field of 59, pictured from left to right: Mike Zorrer, Brian Conlon, Charles Ellsworth, Carl Walling, Jr., Bill Crenshaw, and Ron Secunda.

Bill started and risked keeping his home city of Detroit rather than swap it for Tampa. In general, NorthCentral cities make the best homes, but in this case the decision would cost him as his roll of 2 did little to establish him on either the SAL or ACL. Ron swapped to get New Orleans as his home instead of Charlotte, and Mike did similarly to get Detroit as his home rather than Richmond. Brian kept his home of St. Louis, and was bound for Billings; his was the longest first trip of the match. Charles's Chicago home is one of the best home cities, but his first destination was the unfortunate Miami. Charles did not home swap, either missing his chance or deciding to mimic last year's champion. (Ed Wrobel, 2002 champion, had swapped so as to rid himself of Miami as his home and instead get Kansas City, even though that meant risking Miami as his first destination. Ed knew his chances were much worse with the remote Miami as a home city; in fact, this situation cuts the chance of winning in half!) By comparison to those of the other players, Carl's first trip from Milwaukee to Baltimore was tranquil.

1st round In round 2, Bill rolled 4, again too little to establish on either the SAL or ACL. Ron arrived, and smelling the blood of two Florida-bound players, purchased the SAL. Mike also arrived, and wanting to not be left out of the evolving feeding frenzy, bought the ACL. It looked like a cut-throat match was developing. A roll of 11 bought Brian to his destination, where he collected enough money to reach $31,000. He briefly considered the PA and NYC, but chose to purchase nothing. This conservative approach proved wise because his next trip turned out to be to unfriendly Tampa. As Charles continued to Miami, Carl arrived, collected $8,000 and also purchased nothing. Your GM was surprised that neither opted for the bargain NYNH or B&M.

1st round Round 3 saw Bill roll 9 and get closer to Tampa without paying anyone. Ron's next destination was the innocuous Little Rock, Mike's San Diego, and Carl's New York. In round 4, Bill was the first to bleed $5000, arriving in Tampa and choosing to pay Mike for use of the ACL; he knew Ron would be collecting for Charles's trip to Miami. Bill also purchased nothing. Ron arrived this round and picked the DRGW, and Carl bought the SOU. Upon arriving in Miami, Charles upgraded to an Express. Mike ended up collecting $5000 twice from Bill while Ron collected $5000 three times from Charles.

Perhaps due to all the SouthEast activity, railroad purchasing proceeded in an unusual fashion. The PA did not sell until round 8 when Brian paid for it upon his second arrival. Bill did not make his first purchase (NYC) until round 9. Mike grabbed the B&O later that same round, and Ron the C&O two rounds later. The first big western railroad went to Charles when he stretched his wallet and surprisingly chose the UP in round 12. Carl went next, arrived and selected the ATSF, a fortuitous choice since in the next round Mike would be sent to San Diego. Three rounds later the race for the SP was won by Bill, who managed to overcome a bad start and build the foundation of a decent network with the NYC and SP; now he just needed to connect them.

1st round Soon thereafter Charles was bound for the distant Portland ME and Ron for Boston, so Mike capitalized by buying the B&M. Then a series of low rolls (6, then 3, then 4) ate up Charles's cash and he was forced to sell back his C&NW to the bank. Eyebrows were raised when during his next turn he sold back his last railroad, the UP. The very next round (number 20) Ron completed a long, 8-turn trip from Los Angeles to Boston, which garnered him enough money to not only pay for use of Bill's NYC and Mike's B&M, but also buy the UP, giving his network a desperately needed boost. With no railroads, Charles survived only two more rounds, marking the only bankruptcy of the 2003 tournament, and the first in the final since 1998.

Bill managed to connect his network via the MP, and Mike built a path to the NorthWest via the CB&Q plus NP. Rather than purchase the GM&O or IC, Brian upgraded to a SuperChief in round 29. When in round 30 Carl purchased the IC, the last unowned railroad, the brisk match was just 2 hours old, and found the cash and railroad networks as follows (listed in order of purchase by each player): Bill: $64k, NYC, NYNH, SP, MP, C&NW; Ron: $28k, SAL, D&RGW, WP, C&O, UP, SLSF; Mike: $44.5k, ACL, B&O, RF&P, B&M, CB&Q, NP, GM&O; Brian: $40.5k, PA, CMStP&P, L&N, T&P, plus SuperChief; Carl: $13.5k, SOU, ATSF, CRI&P, GN, N&W, IC. Given that only Bill and Ron owned both a major NorthEastern and SouthWestern railroad, they seemed to the be leading candidates for the victory. 1st round

Mike soon upgraded to a $28,000 SuperChief, followed the next round by both Bill and Ron. It was fortunate Brian had purchased a SuperChief before use fees rose to $10,000, because he immediately made a pair of unfriendly trips (Salt Lake City and San Francisco). The experienced players kept the match chugging along quickly, and spread rail use fees equally so that no one jumped to a big lead. In round 47, Portland ME proved to be difficult for yet another player, as a trip there forced Carl to auction his IC. Ron added it to his network via a winning bid of $21,000.

1st round In round 49, Bill was the first to announce reaching $150,000; in fact, his Los Angeles to Cincinnati payoff bumped him all the way up to $170,500. As if the dice gods sensed someone had too much of a lead, immediately Bill began a string of difficult trips that knocked him back below $150,000: Charleston, Baltimore, then Atlanta, all unfriendly, with Mike and Brian the primary beneficiaries of the associated rail use fees. That same round Mike announced, followed by Ron the next round. Meanwhile, Brian was making trips from Atlanta to Los Angeles to Mobile, riding Carl's ATSF most of the way and paying him for 5 consecutive turns. Even so, Brian was able to announce and Carl wasn't. During the same period, Mike was collecting a few rail use payments while making long, friendly trips. His bank account ballooned from $151,000 in round 53 to $203,000 in round 58, and then to $235,500 in round 62.

1st round A cash check in round 63 showed Mike with $235,500, Brian $221,000, Bill $189,000, Ron $171,500 and Carl less than $150,000. Tension mounted as now, with the right next trip, any of 4 players could win. In round 66 Bill arrived in Norfolk, just 12 dots from his Detroit home, but he had $199,500, not enough to declare. Later that same round Brian arrived in New York; with about $240,000 but 13 dots distant from his St. Louis home and both Bill and Ron hovering in the vicinity, he decided to not risk declaring.

Ron's next destination of Portland, OR was far from his New Orleans home, so he decided to continue hovering in the NorthCentral / SouthCentral area as Mike approached Atlanta, where he would be just 11 from his Detroit home. This put Ron in the best position to rover Mike if Mike declared and failed to roll high enough to reach home. Despite the danger, in round 70, Mike declared and rolled 11, exactly the minimum he needed for his trip home for the win.

1st round The final match was completed in only 4.5 hours, the shortest duration your GM has seen for a 6-player game. The credit goes to both the quick play of the participants as well as time-saving rule variants. The entire tournament was played with the "ride-free-on-your-own-railroads" variant. Additionally, participants were allowed to use the Boardgame Conductor of the RB Player computer version to speed up the tedious destination and payoff chart lookup task. The average duration of a first round match was slightly over 3 hours, and more than one first-round match finished in under 2.5 hours. These durations are an hour shorter than those experienced just a few years ago. I think we've reached a stage in which the matches are about as fast as they are reasonably going to get, and so don't plan any further changes.

1st round The 59 total participants played in 24 first-round matches, producing 24 different winners who advanced to the semi-finals. Twenty-two of those showed for the semis, and 3 alternates were promoted to fill out the five 5-player tables. One of those alternates was champion-to-be Mike Zorrer. Small prizes of pewter train game tokens were awarded to all the winners. The "Power-of-the-Pennsy" award was taken home by David Fox who won his first-round match despite the lowest value network ($112,000). Cheryl Merica claimed the "Rockefeller Award" for winning her first-round match with the most cash ($312,500).

1st round The railroad most frequently owned by a match winner was the C&NW. There was a 4-way tie for the least-frequently winner-owned railroad: B&O, CB&Q, GM&O and RF&P. Curiously, champion Mike Zorrer bucked the statistics and owned all 4 of these in the final! I'd like to thank assistant GMs Paul Van Bloem and Chuck Foster for their support, and I hope to see everyone back again for next year's Rail Baron chugfest. -Steve

2003 Tournament News

updated 23 July 2003

About 70 people are expected to compete in the 13th Annual Rail Baron tournament at the 2003 World Boardgaming Championships (WBC) this coming summer near Baltimore. You don't need to be an expert player; if you simply know how to play, you can join the fun.

What's new this year (details further below):

  • Riding your own RRs is free. Do not pay the customary $1000 if you ride your own RRs, but not the bank's.
  • Writing the players' destinations on the match records sheet will be optional. This speeds this task.
  • The tournament is listed as an Advanced event, rather than a Beginner's event. The basic difference is there is no demo and you must simply know how to play Rail Baron to participate. As before, you do NOT need to be an expert Rail Baron player.
  • Bonus Points are renamed Alternate Points.
  • Computers are allowed to assist with the game's table lookups.
  • Steve Okonski is resuming the GM role after a 1-year break.
I expect the combination of these changes will keep the matches moving faster than even before. I anticipate some 4-player tables will finish in under 3 hours.
Rail Baron Tournament Format

There are some changes from the way the tournament has been run in recent years, so please read. You are encouraged to bring a laptop computer for use at the tournament as described in the next box below.

There are three first-round heats; you can play in as many as you like. If you win you are virtually guaranteed advancement to the next round. Specifically, the top 20 to 30 first-round winners (that's usually everyone who wins in the first round) advance to the semi-finals. The top six semi-finalists advance to the final.

The ideal number of players at each table will vary with the round. For the first-round heats, our target is 4 players, for the semis 5, and for the final 6. With this arrangement, to be crowned champion, you will need to win a 4- and a 5-player match, as well as the slugfest 6-player final.

The table matchups (player groups) for the semi-final matches will be based on AREA rank prior to the WBC. The highest AREA rated players will be grouped with the lowest.

Another way to advance to the semi-finals is by accumulating Alternate Points (named Bonus Points in past years). Alternate Points determine the alternate players who will be eligible to round out the semi-final tables.

Earning Alternate Points is best illustrated by example. If there are 8 tables playing in the heat, and your table finishes first, each person at your table gets 8 Alternate Points. Each player at the next table to finish gets 7 points, etc. The last table to finish is awarded just 1 point per player. (For fairness, a 1-hour adjustment factor will be applied to any table with 3 or 5 players. Adjudicated tables receive 1 point per player.)

The Alternate Points you earn during all three first-round heats are added together. The people who accumulate the most will be at the top of the list for advancing to the semis as alternates. The idea behind Alternate Points is to encourage everyone to keep the game moving along.

Please note the GM may be forced to make changes to this plan should the number of participants vary substantially from that anticipated.

NEW for 2003! Computer Assist

As an experiment, the BPA is allowing us to use laptop/notebook computers this year to assist with the game's chart lookups (destination and payoff). Use is optional, and must be agreed to by all players at that table. The computer's screen must be large enough for the text to be visible to all the players.

To do the chart lookups for you, you must employ the Boardgame Conductor in the RB Player computer program, version 2.8 (or newer). You may not use any other portion of the program or any other Rail Baron related program during the tournament match. Trials indicate this can shave 20 to 30 minutes off the match duration. Remember: the faster you finish, the more Alternate Points you get.

Even an old laptop will do since the RB Player program operates on almost any computer running Windows 3.1 through XP. In advance of the tournament, please download, install and try a shareware copy of the RBP. Use of the program's Boardgame Conductor remains free (even after the shareware's 30-day trial period).


The following is the Rail Baron (RBN) schedule for 2003:

Round 1, Heat 1 Wednesday July 30th 17:00 to 21:00 Salon A
Round 1, Heat 2 Thursday July 31st 18:00 to 22:00 Salon EF
Round 1, Heat 3 Friday August 1st 09:00 to 13:00 MD 1
Awards / Prizes Friday August 1st 18:45 to 19:00 Salon B
Semi-finals Friday August 1st 19:00 to 00:00 Salon B
Final Saturday August 2nd 15:00 to 21:00 Garden

The exact schedule is determined by the BPA; the durations are estimates.

Prize List

In addition to the prizes normally offered by the WBC, we will also award a small prize to all first round winners.

Tournament Officials

Steve Okonski is GM. Chuck Foster and Paul Van Bloem are Assistant GMs.

Special Tournament Rules

Several special game rules will be employed to help reduce the average game duration:

#1 - NEW FOR 2003! Ride your own RRs for free:. Do NOT pay the customary $1000 if you use your own RRs but not the bank's. Riding the bank's RRs for any portion of a trip costs the usual $1000. Tests indicate this speeds up the game by almost 10%.

#2 - Free SuperChief: Once you have an express, you can upgrade to a Superchief for free. Note that you still need to consume a purchase opportunity to perform the upgrade. Jumping directly to a Superchief (without an Express) costs $40,000. This rule will be used for the first round only. For subsequent rounds, the Superchief cost will be reduced per Optional Rule 2 in the RBN rules.

#3 - Roll 3 with a SuperChief: If you do not have a Superchief, and are entitled to a bonus die, the bonus die must be rolled after you have completed movement for the normal roll. Once you have a Superchief, you must roll all three dice at once, and then use them all for movement.

#4 - "Roll-and-move-immediately" rule not enforced: This courtesy rule stipulates that once you roll the dice, you must start moving your pawn immediately. We will not enforce it.

#5 - Home Swapping: Is your first destination a bad one? Before you roll the dice to move for the first time, simply say you are Home Swapping: your first destination becomes your home city and your home city becomes your first destination. Freely teleport your engine to your new home city, and continue play. This rule helps give everyone a fair start. For use fee purposes, assume you are established on whatever RRs serve your new home city. For victory purposes, return to your new home city. Note that this variant makes it possible for two or more players to have the same home city. More details.

All these special rules are supported by the RB Player computer shareware. And, yes, the computer version makes a good enough opponent to help prepare you for the tournament, even if you've never played the boardgame itself.

Rules Interpretations

Review the boardgame rules summary.

If you arrive at your destination on the normal dice, and the bonus die is pending, you get to roll for your next destination and "get the bonus bounce out" (use the bonus die to begin the next trip). Note that with a Superchief engine, you roll the normal and bonus dice together and therefore, if you "bounce out" you use that die to start your next trip; you do NOT re-roll the bonus die.

Per BPA rules, no "cheat sheets" or electronic aids except as described above may be used during tournament play. The replacement destination and payoff chart distributed free by ICI is approved for use.

Any dice that roll on the floor must be rerolled on the table. Any dice that are leaning on the edge of the board game must be rerolled. Reroll only those dice that did not sit properly. Consider rolling within the box top to help avoid these problems.

Cash may not be kept hidden from view of opponents, but may be placed in a single stack in front of the player.

You do not need to tell opponents how much cash you have, unless you have $150,000 or more and an opponent asks. Upon reaching $150,000, you should announce this to the other players.

For more rules interpretations that will be employed, see the Rail Baron FAQ.
Late Arrivals, Long Games and Byes

Please be on time. Late arrivals may lose their right to participate in that heat or round, and will be accommodated only to facilitate the filling of a table to the desired number of players. A player is considered late if he has not submitted his badge to the GM for the round signup when the GM has finished badge processing for all the players already present and waiting to start.

If a match is running longer than the expected duration, the GM will adjudicate it (declare the match ended, and pick a winner) upon request if more than half the remaining players in that match wish so. At his discretion, the GM may also adjudicate a match that is running longer than expected. The GM's decision is final. Adjudicated tables receive 1 Alternate Point per player.

Due to time conflicts with other games, it is likely one or more semi-final and final slots will be unclaimed. For example, in a prior year, two of the six final slots were unclaimed and were filled by others. Thus, even if you did not win during the prior round, but have a high Alternate Point total (for the semis), you should check in because you might advance. Alternates for the final will be semi final second place finishers with the highest net worth. If, after 10 minutes past the scheduled start time of a round, there still remain open table seats, these seats will be offered per BPA guidelines for byes (byes into the semi-final will be in order of most recent champion, byes into the final will be in order of AREA rank).

Prior Champions

2002 Ed Wrobel, full 2002 tournament story
2001 Steve Okonski, full 2001 tournament story
2000 Steve Okonski full 2000 tournament story
1999 Heikki Thoen full 1999 tournament story
1998 Eyal Mozes full 1998 tournament story
1997 Kimberly Lemmons full 1997 tournament story
1996 Heikki Thoen
1995 Heikki Thoen
1994 Bill Fellin
1993 Kevin Quirk
1992 Kevin Quirk
1991 Chuck Foster


WBC and BPA Web site - See the event schedule
Rail Baron Fanatics - Get RB Player software and practice
Empire Builder Tournament at WBC - Compete in this train game too
Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association - Things to do besides boardgaming
Marriott Hunt Valley Inn - Reservations and Directions

Rail Baron is The Avalon Hill Game Company's / Hasbro's Trademark for its Empire Building Game. Any BPA GM who wishes to create a Web page for his/her game is welcome to copy the HTML of this page and modify it as needed.